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Drama Inspirational Contemporary

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

CW: Domestic Abuse


Running water echoes through the washroom as Astrid waits for her hot bath to fill up. Each item of clothing she peels off reveals a bruise, some freshly black and blue, others yellow from weeks of healing. The girl in the mirror stares back at her in a body she hardly recognizes. Scars mingle with her generous curves; splotches pepper the pale skin of her abdomen. The most unrecognizable feature is the light that remains in her eyes, anything but a reflection of how she feels on the inside.

Verin was arrested four days ago. The abuse he always hid so well finally made it into the public spotlight when Astrid’s neighbor, Leo, saved her life after overhearing the verbal assault Verin had subjected her to. The relief she felt was overshadowed by the fear he instilled in her with his last words: You’re mine and you always will be. I’ll make sure of it.

As Astrid pulls on a pair of trousers and a blouse, a knock sounds at the door. “Coming,” she shouts in a singsong tone, careful to keep up that strong, unbothered mask. She pulls her towel from her hair, allowing the locks to fall gracefully past her shoulders. The visitor begins to knock again right as Astrid opens the front door. 

“Hey,” Leo greets her shyly. She detests the way that he treats her, as if she’s a delicate glass on the verge of breaking. Not that he’s wrong. Nonetheless, she offers a small smile in return. “Just wanted to see how you were doing.”

“I’m great, actually. I’m heading out to run some errands.” They exchange formalities and make a bit of small talk before Astrid finally peels herself from the conversation with the typical excuse: “I don’t want to keep you too long.” She’s terrified to leave the house, and with any more delay, she may forego the outing altogether. Who knows what Verin could have planned. He may be locked up but it doesn’t mean his shifty friends are.

Bells chime as Astrid opens the door to her favorite coffee shop, eager for some caffeine to start the day. Her attention immediately shifts to a man in the corner she’s never seen before. Definitely not a regular. He looks up from his book to meet her eyes and his lip curls as he realizes her attention is fully on him. She smiles hesitantly before making her way to the counter to order a drink. 

“I’m Dane,” says a friendly voice behind her as she waits to the side for the barista to call her name. She jumps in surprise but he just chuckles. It’s the man she first noticed when she walked in. 


+


The girl seems skittish when he approaches her and she, in turn, introduces herself as Astrid. Dane wonders why he caught her attention so suddenly when she walked into the shop. Perhaps it was because he had never been here before. 

She is beautiful. Her dark curls cascade halfway down her back and her piercing green eyes, interspersed with flecks of gold, set on his face in a way that would normally leave him at a loss for words. But that is not why he approached her, nor is it his focus. The bruises on her left arm tell a story far too familiar. 

“I’ve never seen you here before. New in town?” she says. Ah, so that answers his question.

“Something like that,” he answers nonchalantly. His true reason for the sudden move is better left unsaid, at least until he gets to know her a little better. Astrid only shoots him a puzzled look before he continues on. “Do you live nearby? I just bought a house on Cardingham.” That information seems to loosen her up as a smile spreads from ear to ear.

“I do. Not too far from you at all.” Her eyes seem to say what her mouth wouldn’t: that was all the information she was willing to give. And he understood. But that doesn’t mean other conversations are off limits. Dane leads her back to his table and she willingly follows. For her immediate reservations, he’s surprised to find the way her eyes sparkle when she talks about the village where she grew up, the excitement stained on her face when they talk about books. Astrid gestures with her hands while she talks about the paintings she so fervently created years ago. Dane watches her with total interest, imagining each line of paint she describes, creating a beautiful picture in his mind. He pretends not to notice the way her face suddenly falls solemn, as if these are all memories long past. As if her life is devoid of the joy she used to find. 


+


Astrid walks alongside Dane through the park lined with luscious green bushes and trees. She had met him yesterday and unsurprisingly, found him sitting in the same corner of the coffee shop this morning, flashing her a smile in greeting as she found her way to him. Astrid had found it easy to open up to him. To her surprise, he seemed to pull her best memories, passions, and qualities from her at a time when she hardly wanted to share her coffee order, in fear of any information making it back to Verin. He was trustworthy. She could see it the moment they met.

The lull in conversation doesn’t last long as Dane looks her over and says, “If there is…anything you ever want to talk about. I might be able to help more than you know.” He finishes speaking and shrinks back into himself, as if he isn’t sure whether he crossed a line or not. Astrid gapes in disbelief, fury rising in her blood. He noticed her marks.

“You really think that I need some big strong man to protect me? Like I can’t take care of myself? And who are you to act like you are more capable than me,” she shoots right back. The expression Astrid expects to see on Dane’s face, one of rage and defensiveness, is completely absent. Instead, he faces her with calm sympathy, his brow furrowed in understanding. 

“That’s actually not what I was suggesting at all,” Dane counters. He looks down and takes a deep breath before saying, “I was going to suggest that you train with me. You’ll never have a reason to live in fear again.”

She cannot deny how enticing the opportunity sounds. Without another question, she agrees.


+



Astrid throws a punch at the heavy bag, completing a combination Dane just taught her, as he trains alongside her. Behind each punch is the rage she was too afraid to release at Verin. With each contact she makes, she releases the hopelessness and self-pity that have controlled her for the past three years. With each engagement of her muscles, her confidence grows. 

Panting, she shakes out her arms and reaches for the water bottle she brought along. Looking into Dane’s eyes, Astrid glimpses something beyond basic strength training fueling each throw of his dagger. Rage and anguish beam from his face. If she didn’t know the danger of jumping to conclusions, she might even say his expressions mirrored her own. As Astrid nears the punching bag once more, her vision darts to a scar running across his leg, from the knee to the middle of his calf. 

Unable to hold in her conjectures any longer, she blurts out, “You didn’t invite me here out of pity.” He stops and holds her gaze, the unspoken words between them confirming what she guessed to be true. 

“No. No, I didn’t. I did it because I understand. And I know what it feels like to question your safety every second of the day.” She flashes a look that says: Keep going. If you’re comfortable. “Her name was Carolyn. I dreaded 5 pm every night, when I finally had to leave the office. I never knew what I was coming home to. Some nights, she would shower me with love. ” He pauses to throw another dagger at the target. “Other nights, she would do unthinkable things as a punishment. For what, I don’t know. She would hit me hard and unyielding for each hour I went without texting her throughout the day. She would slice my skin if I interrupted her cooking and berate me for not upholding my end of the chores.” Dane looks down and shakes his head, as if speaking the memories brings them back to life. “And I would never fight back. I would never hit a woman. And I couldn’t leave. For as cruel as she was, she was smart. Smarter than me, probably. She would’ve ruined my life if I left her.” Astrid could feel her own emotions surfacing. She wants nothing more than to embrace him and let his grief float away. Somehow, hearing Dane’s story broke her heart more than thinking of her own experiences. Because she would never wish a fate like hers on anyone. 

“I was twenty-two. He fell in love fast,” Astrid offered her own story in response. “But then his life slowly began to revolve around me. I was his obsession. He thought that marking me with bruises and cuts would keep me from other men. Would embarrass me. He didn’t let me have a life outside of him. And when I did, I paid for it.” She doesn’t want to get into details. She doesn’t want to relive the reality she so recently changed. When it was obvious she had nothing more to say, Dane continued.

“So a couple weeks ago, I left the country and changed my name. And here I am. On the run from the woman that scarred me.” He sets his equipment down and takes a few steps closer to me. “Becoming physically stronger makes me feel mentally stronger as well.”

“Then let’s get back to it,” she said with a smirk. 


+


Dane watches her each day, becoming stronger and stronger. Her motivation has grown so much that he thinks she might start training at night as well. Her daggers hit the bullseye nearly every throw. And her punches shake the bags with the strength of an earthquake. As she steps back from finishing her combination, she flashes him a smile of bright white teeth. It melts him. To know she can take care of herself now. And that he played an instrumental role in her finding closure. 

“I’m gonna be stronger than you pretty soon if you just stand there watching,” Astrid lectures him as he realizes he’s been staring. He chuckles and moves back to his position.

“Up for some self-defense?” She smirks as she agrees. Dane walks up behind her as she throws an elbow back, nearly connecting with his face, were it not for his swift dodge. He spins around and gets her into a headlock with ease, before her knee comes up to his groin, about to stun him. “Woah, you got a little close there,” he teases.

“Let me attack this time.” Astrid kicks his leg, causing his knees to buckle as he falls to the ground. She keeps Dane pinned, using both her arms and legs to restrain him. He pauses beneath her, studying the way she hovers over him as a small smile spreads across his face. 

“Are you gonna escape or what?” she says, pulling him out of his trance. Dane throws his head up, as if to knock foreheads and weaken Astrid’s strength, allowing him to roll over and take the dominant position. He immediately stands up and brushes off his hands, as if to say, easy. Astrid just rolls her eyes and laughs. 


+


As Astrid returns to throwing punches, she feels herself teeming with strength, welling with confidence. Utterly unafraid. And she has Dane to thank for it. He knew better than to play the knight in shining armor. He hadn’t saved her; he let her save herself.


January 24, 2022 23:27

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